The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 19 No. 3 • April 2016


THE ECONOMICS OF PAIN AND PLEASURE
“Wantability”

Another chapter (CH. 35) in the book discussed above (Thinking, Fast And Slow) discusses pain and pleasure in the terms of an economist. UTILITY is a term of art in economics that means roughly a measure of worth or value. In biology, it would be used to assess pain or pleasure. The author of the book (Daniel Kahneman) chose to call it “experienced utility.” Somebody else in the book called it “wantability.” (One of the confusing but also amusing aspects of a newly developing field is the creation of a slew of names for it.)

Another word that is used in the context of utility (or pleasure and, occasionally, for pain) is the word HEDONIC. “The British economist Francis Edgeworth speculated about this topic in the nineteenth century and proposed the idea of a ‘hedonimeter,’ an imaginary instrument analogous to the devices used in weather-recording stations, which would measure the level of pleasure or pain that an individual experiences at any moment.” (Pg. 378 of the book.)

As most know, “electrical stimulation of specific areas in the rat brain (and of corresponding areas in the human brain) produce a sensation of INTENSE PLEASURE, so intense in some cases that rats who can stimulate their brain by pressing a lever will die of starvation without taking a break to feed themselves.” (Pg. 384.) The memory of this pleasure is what causes the animals to repeat the stimulation over and over. But it is usually only the very last moments of an experience of pleasure that are remembered and only at the very end the emotional evaluation emerges. This is very important because “tastes and decisions are shaped by memories and the memories can be wrong.” (Pg. 385.) How we remember pleasure and pain can be as important as the actual experience.

Quotes from the book say it best:

“A divorce is like a symphony with a screeching sound at the end—the fact that it ended badly does not mean it was all bad.”

“You are giving the good and the bad part of your experience equal weight, although the good part lasted ten times as long as the other.”

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